Air-injection-based enhanced oil recovery (EOR) processes have historically been of great interest due to their high recovery potential and applicability to a wide range of reservoirs where other processes are not effective or economical. However, most operators require a certain level of confidence in the potential recovery from these (or any) process before committing resources; this is commonly achieved with the support of laboratory and reservoir simulation studies.
Laboratory testing, including combustion tube, ramped temperature oxidation (RTO), and accelerating rate calorimeter (ARC) tests, can supply data for simple analytical models. It can also provide important insights into potential oxidation behaviors and oil recovery mechanisms. Similarly, reservoir simulation of some of those experiments can assist in the understanding of the process and may allow for the development of kinetic models that can be used for further reservoir modeling. However, due to sample size limitation and the unscaled nature of the experiments, these tests are not ideally suited to provide detailed or unique kinetic data for direct use in numerical simulators. In fact, the oxidation reactions are sufficiently complex that, regardless of how robust a thermal reservoir simulator may be, its predictive capability strongly depends on the engineer’s understanding of the process and ability to model the most relevant oxidation behaviors of the particular hydrocarbon reservoir under study.
Over the past 50 years, the In-Situ Combustion Research Group (ISCRG) at the University of Calgary has dedicated its efforts toward the advancement of this technology. Under the leadership of Professor Gordon Moore, the ISCRG has performed a large number of combustion tests, designed and carried out many novel oxidation experiments, and also made important contributions to the numerical modeling of air-injection-based processes. Nevertheless, in spite of its long research history, the group acknowledges that there is still much that needs to be learned about the process. For example, two oils with the same physical properties such as viscosity and density can have significantly different oxidation behaviors, which are difficult to predict; this is one of the reasons the group continues to perform laboratory experiments and conduct research in this area.
This paper describes some of the most important conceptual contributions made by the ISCRG based on their experimental results and how they have enhanced our understanding of the process. These continue to be an important source of knowledge toward the development of predictive reservoir simulation models, as it is very difficult, if not impossible, to properly model a physical problem one does not understand well. For instance, the fundamental equations used for mathematical modeling depend on selecting of the relevant physical mechanisms and assumptions made, and these are derived from experimental work. Similarly, when using a commercial numerical simulator, the selection of fluid pseudocomponents as well as their physical properties and chemical reactions, as well as their kinetic parameters, also depend on an understanding of the process.
This paper provides a summary of the relevant physical aspects to consider when modeling the in-situ combustion (ISC) process as well as new insights on its dynamics based on the laboratory experiments performed by the ISCRG.